Communications Officials to Face Trial

By The Irrawaddy 6 February 2013

RANGOON — Eight senior officials from Burma’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) are under investigation for corruption and will soon be tried, according to government sources.

An official from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told The Irrawaddy that the accused officials are currently being investigated for violating Article 409 of the Penal Code, which deals with misuse of state-owned property. They will be tried in two months and face charges under the Public Properties Protection Act, he said.

An official from the MCIT’s Myanmar Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) also confirmed reports about the investigation and the trial, but said they are not related to anything that occurred in the ministry when Burma was still under military rule. They are only related to a project of the current administration to increase the number of mobile phones in the country to 30 million, the official said.

“It only involves cases that have happened under this government, such as the distribution of SIM cards worth 200,000 kyat [US $250], construction of mobile phone communication networks, and relations between domestic and foreign companies,” said the MPT official, who asked to remain anonymous. “If it also covered cases in the military-regime era, many more people would have to be charged.”

The MCIT was previously known as the Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs (MCPT).

The official added that Thein Zaw, who served as the communications minister under the former regime, is currently a leading member of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, many of whose leaders have family connections to private communications companies. That would make it very complicated to address older corruption cases, he said, adding that the current Constitution prohibits taking any legal action against any member of the junta that held power until early 2011.

Chapter 14, Article 445 of Burma’s 2008 Constitution states that “All policy guidelines, laws, rules, regulations, notifications and declarations of the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the State Peace and Development Council or actions, rights and responsibilities of the State Law and Order Restoration Council and the State Peace and Development Council shall devolve on the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. No proceeding shall be instituted against the said Councils or any member thereof or any member of the Government, in respect of any act done in the execution of their respective duties.”

Lt-Col Win Sein, the deputy-director of the Myanmar Police Force, which operates under the MHA, also emphasized that the investigation of the eight officials only involves corruption cases that have taken place since the new government assumed power. He added that the investigation is being led by the Criminal Investigation Department.

He said some of the officials have been suspended while others have been dismissed from their posts.

The MCIT has reportedly questioned other officials from the ministry and private communications companies to find out whether they have had any connection with the detained officials. It is believed to be examining its contracts signed with Chinese communications companies such as ZTE Corporation and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

In April 2011, Thein Htun, the then MCPT minister, said his government will extend 30 million more mobile phone lines in cooperation with private companies over the next five years. Some 23 domestic companies close to the previous regime were given shares in the project.

On Jan. 16 of this year, President Thein Sein allowed him to resign from his post.

Tha Lun Zaung Htet and Mary Ko contributed to this report.